Five unanswered questions after Microsoft's Q3 earnings call

I could have entitled this post "10 unasked and unanswered questions" or maybe, if dinner wasn't calling, "50 unasked/unanswered questions" But let's start with five questions that Wall Street analysts didn't ask and Microsoft execs didn't answer after the company announced its FY 2009 Q3 earnings on April 23.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

I could have entitled this post "10 unasked and unanswered questions" or maybe, if dinner wasn't calling, "50 unasked/unanswered questions." But let's start with five....

Microsoft had a mixed FY 2009 third quarter, the results of which it announced on April 23. Yes, annuity licensing (volume subscription deals) were up 15 percent. And Microsoft sold a lot of Xbox consoles. But company officials played up most heavily plans to keep the pressure on employees to cut costs, while refraining from offering much optimism in terms of when the economic downturn will start trending up.

Wall Street analysts on the post-earnings call asked lots about cost of good sold. But no one asked:

1. Are there more layoffs coming, beyond the 5,000 announced earlier this year? One Seattle analyst predicted that there would be. A number of Microsoft employees have been walking on eggshells the past week or two in anticipation that more cuts would be announced, possibly today. But no analysts on the call asked. All we know is that Microsoft has cut 800 of the total 5,000 employees it expects to eliminate by 2010 and headcount is ramping more slowly than originally anticipated.

2.Will Microsoft manage to ship Windows 7 in time for the holiday 2009 season? OK, even if they asked, no one would give a straight answer. But still.... 3. What's Microsoft's Plan B if (and some would say when) the EC lowers the boom on the company regarding its browser-bundling policies? Microsoft is due to respond to the EC's preliminary findings next week. Opera's complaint now has been joined by Google, Mozilla, IBM, Sun, Adobe and lots of other Microsoft rivals. No one asked whether Microsoft believes its "Remove IE 8" checkbox option in Windows 7 will do anything to appease the Microsoft-hating judges in Europe. 4. When is Microsoft going to cry uncle in terms of its online-systems spending plans? I know Ballmer has said he is willing to give a business 10 years to prove itself. But what happens if Microsoft doesn't end up striking some kind of partnership with Yahoo? (Another question not asked: Any update on your prospects of striking a deal with the No. 2 search player?) Does Microsoft really think a new version of Kumo/Bing/Sift or whatever its search engine ends up being renamed can undo the hundreds of millions of losses ($575 million in Q3 alone)?

5. Has the continued strong growth of netbooks done anything to reshape your thinking? Microsoft's plan of record is to continue to push full-fledged, higher-price Windows and Office SKUs to fuel its Windows Client and Business Division growth. The Softies have said this is what they plan to do with Windows 7 and Office 2010. But netbooks were 10 percent of all PC sales in the third quarter, officials said. And there's no sign that growth is dwindling. So how does Microsoft think it's going to be able to push Windows 7 Professional/Enterprise and client-based Office 2010 versions to users who really want Windows Starter and Office Web Apps?

No one asked for more info on Windows Mobile 7 or Pink, Microsoft's cloud-computing  pricing plans, its new Zunes coming this fall, the stock price... the list goes on. What else would you have asked if you had a chance to grill chat with Microsoft's CFO?

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